By Kate McLachlan
I had my first attack of penis envy at the age of nine. Steve was ten and John was eleven. Mom was visiting the doctor (just about the only time she ever left the house) regarding the imminent birth of her ninth child. Granny was in charge, and my older brothers and I had taken advantage of the inadequate supervision to indulge in a lively game of strip poker.
We didn’t really know how to play poker, but stripping was easy. It didn’t take long before we were prancing buck naked across the boys’ room.
I’d seen penises before, of course. I had three younger brothers as well as the two older ones. Escaping the bathtub to run around the house, screaming and soaking wet, was a favorite activity of the little boys. The sight of a penis was nothing new to me.
Then John lay flat on his back on his dingy, bare mattress and said, “Watch what I can do!” Somehow, magically, he made his penis defy gravity and rise straight up into the air. I was struck with a pang of envy so strong it made my bare little loins clench.
It was so unfair! Boys already got the best toys. Tonka dump trucks, snapping cap guns, Creepy Crawlers, Rockem’ Sockem’ Robots. Now it turned out they came equipped with the same sort of apparatus that made me covet their toys. They had moving parts!
“Me too!” Steve hollered, dropping to his mattress when he saw how impressed I was by John’s parts. “I can do it too!”
I despondently watched their penises rise and fall like miniature sails and wondered what I could show them that would be of any interest. Before anything occurred to me, though, we heard Granny’s voice come up the stairs, followed by her footsteps.
“What are you kids doing up there?”
There were three closets in the big room. Each of us grabbed our clothes and dived into the nearest closet, pulling on clothes as fast as we could. By the time Granny reached the room, the boys were half dressed. They flung open their closet doors.
“Surprise!” They capered out, zipped and snapped and bare from the waist up.
Not wanting to be left out, I buttoned my own pants and threw open the door.
“Surprise!” I leaped out, spreading my arms wide in exaggerated greeting.
“Katie! Where is your shirt?”
Her voice shamed me. I dove back into the closet, pulled my shirt over my head, and emerged, subdued and confused. My brothers and I had just spent the last few minutes together as naked as babies, and we all knew for certain that the only difference between us was between our legs. Why so much shame in my shirtlessness?
The punishment we received back then escapes my memory, though I’m sure there was one. It probably involved spankings for my brothers, something less violent for me. Girls in my family didn’t get spanked. I had no penis. It made a difference.
Not only were we girls stuck with bodies that did nothing interesting, our toys didn’t even have moving parts. Dolls and tea sets and make-up kits were boring. The problem with girl toys is that they didn’t do anything.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The Easy Bake Oven I got one Christmas baked real cakes, a feature that even drew my brothers’ attention from their Hot Wheels. But once the cakes were all eaten, which happened before Christmas day was over, the pink plastic oven was useless.
Another Christmas I got a pretty cool paper doll game. It came with a paper doll, a timer, several sheets of paper doll clothes, and a pair of safety scissors. The idea of the game was to set the timer and see if you could get an entire sheet of doll clothes cut out before the timer went off. That game was pretty fun, for a game you played by yourself, but the paper doll clothes were useless. The problem was, in order to beat the timer you had to cut quickly, which meant sleeves and pant legs hit the cutting room floor along with the little tabs that were supposed to attach the clothes to the doll. By the end of Christmas day, I was left with nothing but an underwear clad paper doll, a timer, a pair of safety scissors, and no paper doll clothes.
The best Christmas presents transcended gender lines. My favorite Christmas present of all, as a kid, was a Toot Sweet, which turned Tootsie Rolls into whistles. Candy and a toy all in one? It was better than the Easy Bake Oven, by far. My sweet tooth was in heaven. But, like most of my Christmas toys, by the end of Christmas day the tootsie rolls were gone and the Toot Sweet sat useless and forgotten while I went to beg my brothers to let me race their hot wheels.
One year I got a bottle cutter. It was actually designed for kids, for some crazy reason. You could take a bottle (in our family it was always a beer bottle), spin it around the glass cutter, and the top popped off. You then took the sandpaper, which came with the kit, to sand the top smooth. Presto! A handy and inexpensive drinking glass. Unfortunately the glass broke every single time, and my brothers and I all ended up with cut fingers that year. That toy disappeared over night.
I lost my interest in boy parts when I got a little older and learned what they were all about. My interest in girl parts evolved as I realized that they really did…move.
My Christmas presents eventually grew more practical – clothing and records and school supplies – and they generally lasted more than a day too, but my memories of them are not distinct. I do remember receiving a calculator one year. Calculators were new and marvelous and expensive. Mine could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and calculate percentages. It was the size of a paper back book. A trade paperback. It was a decent enough present, and it did have moving parts, but really, not much can measure up to a Toot Sweet.
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